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Archive for the ‘My Writing’ Category

Megan Taylor, writer extraordinaire who is currently taking the short story world by storm after completely winning me over with her second novel The Dawning, has nominated fellow writer extraordinaire Giselle Leeb and (inexplicably) me to take part in a blog relay amble. This involves answering a few questions about writing before handing them on to two more writers. It’s already been round some amazing writers such as Matt Cresswell, Kerry Hadley, Anne Jensen, Louise Swingler, Graeme Shimmin and Steve Hollyman.

You can read Megan’s blog here, and don’t forget to check out Giselle’s answers, and those given by the other writers, too.

So, the questions…

What am I working on?

I have two projects on the go at the moment (or, more accurately, on the go-very-slow). I’ve been writing a novel for over seven years – a kind of magical realism fantasy type thing which is about a woman whose roots are in a small rural village, where the villagers made a deal with the land back in prehistoric times that each would look after the other. The land is struggling, and needs the woman’s help to recover. Magic and history and romance all entwine to make what will hopefully be an interesting story. I’ve started it three times now, and I’m hoping that at some point soon (and with the help of a marvellous critique group at NWS) I’ll get the bugger finished.

More recently, I’ve started writing poetry, and I’m getting more and more excited about what poetry can do. I’m hoping to use it to convey the ideas embodied in quantum theory… sounds a bit bonkers, but I’ve been trying to get my head round quantum mechanics for years, and I’m increasingly convinced that it’s virtually impossible to really explain it using prose. It can, obviously, only be properly expressed in mathematics, but I think it could be explained to some extent using poetry. We’ll see.

How does my work differ from others in its genre?

What a weird question! I don’t think the novel does, particularly. It’s not very genre-specific, in that it probably would be classified as literary fiction (or maybe mainstream fiction) rather than fantasy or sci-fi. The poetry… hmm… poets have written about every topic under, above and including the sun. So how can I say whether my work differs, let alone how it differs? However, I was lucky enough to have a one-to-one with Jane Commane, the truly lovely publisher at Nine Arches Press, yesterday, and she seemed interested in the idea, so perhaps it’s different enough to be worth publishing at some point.

Why do I write what I do?

I write the novel because I enjoy reading, and I’d like to contribute to the general entertainment of the reading masses. I write the poetry because it’s fun, challenging and rewarding. Hell, that’s why I write the novel too. And all the other stuff I write.

How does my writing process work?

‘Process’ is definitely not the right word. It’s more like: ‘scrabbling around to find a few spare moments to wrangle some words into something like writing.’ As anyone who knows me can attest, I’ve become a workaholic late in life (something to do with having to earn a living somehow after being chewed up and spat out by the computing industry, but more to do with finally discovering how fulfilling it is to work at something you love). So I don’t have a lot of free time, and much of that is taken up with sitting on the sofa allowing my brain to switch off.

I’ve never been one of those people who can get up early and write (apart from anything else, I rarely get to bed before midnight), and I don’t have anything even vaguely resembling a routine. You should see my diary… or rather, perhaps you shouldn’t… So making space to write is not easy.

One thing that does drive me is deadlines – I’m one of those annoying people who leaves everything to the last minute, but I’m incredibly productive in those last few days and hours before a deadline. So I harness that in my writing practice. I’ve signed up for a part-time Creative Writing MA (which I can’t afford, in terms of money or time) which forces me to find time to write. And I’ve been a member of a fiction critique group at NWS for nearly 3 years now, which makes me keep going with my novel.

However, I do believe that everything I do and think and read contributes to my writing. So from that perspective I’m writing all the time!

Nominations

In turn, I’m going to ask the two newest members of Nottingham Writers’ StudioKim Jamison and Eleanor Hemsley to take on the baton and continue the amble. They don’t know about it yet because I’ve forgotten to actually ask them, but I hope they won’t mind.

Do drop by their blogs next Monday to find out more…

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Tennis

Tennis

Not quite sure how this has happened. I don’t watch tennis. I don’t really care whether Murray wins or not. That Djokovic has just broken serve in the second set has provoked no reaction in me whatsoever. In fact, I think they’re idiots, running around in this weather…

The grass is cut to 8mm here.

Gosh, really? Every single blade of it?

The excuses

There are many things I should be doing. And I’ve been using the length of that list to avoid writing blog posts. Of course, it doesn’t mean I avoid doing other stuff, like watching the sodding tennis. The idea was that those lovely young men would rush around in the background while I got on with a couple of ebooks, or perhaps hacked away at the Five Leaves website. Instead, I have eaten a bag of Sainsbury’s Dolly Mixture and completed a puzzle on Jigsaw World.

Oh yes, Murray’s father is sitting next to his mother. Glad to see they haven’t had a domestic.

D’you know what, I can’t be bothered with excuses. I haven’t been blogging because I’ve been busy and tired. So there.

The news

The NWS Goblin

The NWS Goblin

I am now a goblin as well as an elf. Robin Vaughan-Murray has left Nottingham Writers’ Studio… and guess who’s gone and got his job? Well, you probably already know, because I haven’t exactly kept quiet about it. SO exciting! Today, NWS, tomorrow, the world! (Except Robin will probably get there first – he’s left very big shoes to fill and is now down in That London doing Remarkable Things.) So, why a goblin? Because I’m definitely not a pixie, of course! Obvious when you know.

A nice skinny one with not too much fluff

(they’re talking about BALLS, you fool!)*

So, Ms Goblin, what did you do yesterday?

The Rights of the Writer (extract)

The Rights of the Writer (extract)

Apart from sleeping, I spent a morning at NWS (busman’s holiday) with a delightful group of teachers, doing some writing. Jane Bluett and Sheila Hubbard are starting a group under the aegis of the National Writing Project – “a collection of groups of writing teachers extended by an online environment and supported by NATE, the National Association for the Teaching of English.” The idea is that if you teach children and you expect them to write, you should write yourself. It’s a program that’s been running in the US since 1974 with a great deal of success. Simon Wrigley and Jeni Smith, who came along and led some exercises yesterday, have set up a similar program in the UK, and I am very happy that a group is forming in Nottingham. They will meet once every half-term and do some writing exercises, which will lead to discussion and reflection to help inform their teaching practice. I hope the NWS can support this worthwhile enterprise…

I wrote something I’d like to share with you. The exercise was to take an object and use it as an extended metaphor for writing. I chose at random, and ended up with a toy car.

Small red plastic toy carWriting is like a tiny plastic red car. It has wheels that are a bit stiff, you can push it along and it goes, reluctantly, where you want it to go. There’s no steering wheel, no delicate system of hydraulics that allows you to point it towards your goal with the merest touch of your hand. Steering is achieved by brute force. You really have to push.

Then you discover that if you do something counter-intuitive, say, like holding it down and dragging it backwards, it builds up a momentum all of its own, and you can simply let it go and try to keep up. It might not go where you think it will, it might go round in circles for a while and then shoot off in a totally unexpected direction, but that’s what brings a smile to your face.

You don’t know what happens inside the tiny plastic red car. There’s some mechanism that stores the energy gained from going backwards and releases it in a forwards direction. Someone, somewhere, designed that mechanism. Someone else put it together. You, all you can do, is pull back, then let go, and see what happens.

I’m getting excited

(Boris Becker, in a very sexy voice)

Silly game, this

(Andrew Castle, not in a sexy voice)


*(TENNIS balls, you twit!)

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It’s Mother’s Day in the UK. I have had a lovely lazy day, being waited on hand and foot, relaxing and pampering myself.

Hahaha!

OMG, I'm a mum! How did that happen?Actually, it’s not so far from the truth. I went to bed early last night and had a good night’s sleep. Got up at a relatively civilised time this morning to find a beautiful card waiting for me, opened said card, and thus started the day with a smile. No sign of kids till lunchtime, so took the opportunity to get on with lots of work-type things I’m normally too busy to catch up with. Felt a craving for cake, so did the Sainsbury’s shopping that I’ve been putting off for days. Got back at gone 1pm to find there was still no sign of male lifeforms in the house… was half-way through unpacking the shopping when Simon (#1 son) returned from a fruitless quest for maple syrup, gave me a hug and told me to go and sit down while he finished putting the shopping away. Then he cooked us lovely lunch of eggybread and bacon (he had planned to do american pancakes, but that’s no good without maple syrup), and Blake (#2 son) and I watched the utterly ridiculous Land of the Lost. We also ate cake. I’ve spent a pleasant afternoon doing more work-type stuff, and I think I shall have a similarly pleasant evening. Which might involve more cake, and possibly beer. Or wine. And I might phone my mother…

Happy Mother’s Day indeed!

This is a pome wot I wrote a while back…

blakeandsimonSomething of Nothing

Nothing is not
         sugar, butter, eggs and flour
         a stout mixing bowl
         25 minutes at 180°

it’s not
         bricks and mortar
         floors and ceilings
         four good-sized bedrooms

not
         a block of marble
         a mallet and a chisel
         the body in the stone

not         words
     especially
     not    words.

You and I
        unsettled ghosts
you cannot rest
        a comforting hand
        on my shoulder
I cannot find
        passion
        on your lips

yet somehow
we made our sons
of nothing
and    oh

    they are
        something.

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When I was at university the first time round, decades ago, there was a period of six months when I was unaccountably grumpy. Eventually I realised it was because I wasn’t reading anything for fun. It’s always been my habit to read before going to sleep (and at other times, of course, but always before sleeping), and for a variety of reasons it wasn’t happening at that time in my life. So I started reading again, and returned to my usual approximation of a reasonable human being.

As anyone who reads my Facebook updates will know, I’ve been quite grumpy lately too. Not because I haven’t been reading. Oh no, I’ve learned that lesson. I thought it was because I’m so busy. I don’t think I’ve had a day off for a month or so now, that includes evenings and weekends. Enough to make anyone grumpy, you might think. I would disagree. I love everything I’m doing at the moment. Everything. How lucky does that make me? The only minor problems are lack of time and money, but they’re small irritations and will sort themselves out. So… what on earth is wrong with me?

The Believer by Francis Upritchard

The Believer by Francis Upritchard

Yesterday I went to Nottingham Contemporary for the first time since the new exhibition opened – I’d enrolled on the Study Sessions series of workshops with Wayne Burrows and Sarah Jackson (wonderful poets and All Round Good Eggs). The aim of the sessions is to write one or more pieces of text departing from the work of the two artists currently being exhibited – Alfred Kubin and Francis Upritchard.

First of all, I was completely blown away by the artwork on display. Kubin’s drawings are grotesque but at the same time intensely human, drawing out the uncertainties and fears we all repress. And Upritchard’s sculptures are also grotesque and intensely human, but in a completely different way. They seem to be open to possibilities, not scary at all. I could have spent the two hours simply wandering around the exhibition and gazing at everything.

Writing notes

Pages from my notebook

That wasn’t the point though. The point was to write something. And I did. I scribbled notes and paragraphs and descriptions and free-writing, I jotted down thoughts and made diagrams with arrows and footnotes, I filled pages of my notebook with ideas for a story. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since. I want to finish all my work so I can start writing. I’m cheerful and energetic and bouncy. I want to stop writing this blog so I can write the story, and another story, and a poem or several, and…

I NEED TO WRITE!

Believe it or not, this is a surprising discovery. I knew I liked writing, but I never really understood people who said they ‘need’ to write. I thought I wasn’t a proper writer, because I didn’t share that ‘need’. I thought to myself… well, I’ll just make myself a career around writing, I’ll teach and publish and edit and proofread and typeset. And it doesn’t matter if I don’t have time to write.

How wrong I was.

Now all I have to do is make sure I have that time. It’s a good job I can get by on a couple of hours sleep a night. (I’m lying. I can’t.)

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How on earth did that happen?

111O/3

111O/3, with letterpress poem/print insert

I might have mentioned earlier this week that I have had four poems accepted for Obsessed with Pipework. These are not my first published poems – I’ve had some included in the Nottingham University student anthologies, a couple in the Nottingham Poetry Society‘s 70th anniversary anthology, and my poem Horseflies was published (at the editor’s request – thanks Eireann Lorsung!) in 111O/3. But this was my first actual letter that says, ‘Yes, we like your poems and we’d love to publish them.’ So exciting! And it does make me feel like a real poet.

Horseflies

My first non-anthology published poem.

I spent most of yesterday at Southwell Library Poetry Festival. As always, Sheelagh Gallagher and everyone at the library have done an amazing job, bringing some wonderful poets to this neck of the woods. Sadly I had too much work to be getting on with to go to the events during the day, but the evening was magic. More of that later.

At lunchtime I put on my (metaphorical) chauffeur’s cap to take Sheelagh to the Maggie’s Centre at Nottingham City Hospital – I should possibly have taken an amphibious vehicle, there was so much water on the road. I sat and worked while she gave a creative writing workshop, until the end of the workshop when she called me in to talk to the group about ‘being a poet’ and read a couple of my poems. It felt quite strange, a bit like I was an impostor*… but it was fun and they were lovely people who had written some interesting poems themselves.

[* NO! I am a real poet!]

We made it back to Southwell – just. Didn’t stop to look at Lowdham, which was completely closed off and flooded. I then spent a happy couple of hours with Cathy Grindrod and Frances Thimann eating cake (thanks, Frances!). Oh, and discussing the event proposals for the Nottingham Festival of Words. Some interesting ideas, lots and lots of talent… over fifty proposals submitted so far and a few late submissions still trickling in… it’s going to be a brilliant festival. The website is under construction, but you can subscribe to the mailing list on the front page – I recommend you do that if you want to be kept up to date with the news.

Lovely hour or so preparing for my reading chatting to some friends I haven’t seen for a while and incidentally identifying some more opportunities (some people call it networking, I call it fun). Then read four of my poems (along with Carol Rowntree Jones and Simon Kew), which was awesome. I love reading my poems aloud**. It’s even better with an audience! Not so sure about the radio mike though – not used to that sort of thing at all.

[** See! I really am a real poet!]

Valerie Laws

Valerie Laws with her horse skull…

The day was finished off perfectly by a couple of hours listening to Ophelia’s Sistas – billed as:

Prize-winning poets Char March and Valerie Laws are both fabulous and experienced performers and – as Ophelia’s Sistas – they make a formidable team. They take their audiences on an exploration of pathology, wild sex, dementia, lost pigeons, flirting at funerals, dogs in space, insanity, all in poetry which is deeply moving and very funny. […] a high-energy evening of performance fireworks, belly laughs, dirty laughs, and pathos – forging through darkness with wit, determination, and panache.

Char March

Char March (she didn’t wear the Viking headgear for the whole show)

And they didn’t disappoint. Funny, touching, profound, silly, raunchy… sometimes all at the same time. I recommend you catch either or both of them if you get a chance. Clever, interesting, generous women, and bloody good poets too.

As I walked back to my car (my heroic car which took me carfully(? boatfully?) through rain and rain and rain all day) I was accosted by a very strange woman who wanted to know whether the 100 bus stop which said the bus went to Lowdham was also the bus stop for Nottingham. I assured her it was, and as a reward was treated to her life story. It seemed to involve theatre (in a cellar?), a door somewhere in Southwell which just opened for her (which I think was a literal door), travel around the UK (possibly involving London), a son who studied philosophy, and lots and lots of incomplete sentences which ran on and on, punctuated by, ‘I do ramble, don’t I?’ and, ‘I don’t mean to keep you.’ Turned out she’d been to Ophelia’s Sistas – didn’t think much of it as the poetry didn’t rhyme, but appreciated the mentions of allotments and still-birth in the poems. She had very strong views about Char March’s frequent mentions of the fact that she’s a lesbian, but I’ve no idea what those views were! Bless her – I could have listened to her all night!

The sun was losing its grip on the sky as I drove home, without my usual audio-book. For once, I enjoyed the silence and time to reflect on what was a truly wonderful day.

(then I got home and did a couple of hours work…)

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Obsessed with Pipework

Powerful and strange, huh? Works for me!

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Something I haven’t had much time for lately is my own writing. I’ve been doing bits and pieces, and taking opportunities when available. At the beginning of May, for example, I went down to Chipping Campden with a friend for a one-day workshop run by Mario Petrucci. The title of the workshop was ’16 ways to write a poem’, and we did a lot of listening and a lot of writing.

The best thing for me about the day was getting my mind back into the poetry groove for a while. You know how it is, you spend hours and hours writing copy for websites or festival programmes, or proofreading other writers’ work, then it takes a significant effort to switch your head into a creative mode.

KeyringOne of Mario’s 16 ways was called ‘The Third Mind’. He asked us to write ten lines about an object – any object. I chose the keyring my mum gave me as a graduation present back in 1987 – a comment on my tendency then to lock myself out! These were the lines I wrote:

Goldish colour fading to silver.
A present from my mum.
Slightly corroded, pitted by time.
Holds my keys.
Gets tangled up in itself.
Makes a nice rattling sound.
Heavier than my keys.
Gucci logo (the old one).
Has interesting links in its chain.
Works by pulling (not turning) the bit that looks like a screw.

I read the lines out with no explanation, then Mario gave them a title selected at random from a list of feelings we’d generated beforehand… for mine the title was ‘Friendship’. Try reading the lines again with that title in mind…

Amazing, isn’t it?

I love poetry, the exactness of each word, the way every single nuance feeds into every single line and makes it more than it is. I’m working on a poem at the moment which, on the face of it, makes no sense. But when you read it in light of the title the whole thing clicks into place somehow. And one of the joys of poetry is talking about it with other poets. On Friday I went to the first meeting of a new poetry critiquing group. I was so pleased when my poet friends, who hadn’t seen that poem before, instinctively understood what it was about and gave me some invaluable advice on how it could do its work better. I’m looking forward to finding a couple of hours to work on that poem, now I know what it needs.

Perhaps in another blog post I’ll be able to identify more clearly just what it is about poetry that has grabbed me and won’t let me go. I doubt it though. I just know it gives me great joy and a sense of being with words in a purer way than any other kind of writing or reading.

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